For more than 200 years, my fatherâ€™s family has lived in western New York, centered between Canandaigua and Palmyra. Whenever anyone publishes a description of Joseph Smithâ€™s neighborhood and the neighbors who knew him or hired him or harassed him, I scour the writing for familiar names. Surely my ancestors knew or knew of the Smiths, and surely they were aware of gossip about gold plates and a strange new religion in their midst. What did they think of it all? I have no idea. The past is filled with characters like my ancestors who were tickled by the fringes of Mormon history, whose stories we will never know.
One woman whose life brushed Mormonism is Harriet Rogers Grandin, wife of Egbert Bratt Grandin, who printed the Book of Mormon at Palmyra.
Eighteen-year-old Harriet married Grandin in December 1828; in November 1829, about midway through the presswork on the Book of Mormon, her first son, Carlton Rogers Grandin, was born. Carlton died about 1835 of â€œtyphus fever and swelling in his leg,â€ a diagnosis familiar to the parents of Joseph Smith, who had nursed their son through the same illness a generation earlier.
Harriet bore five other children â€“ Mary Sophia (born 1831), Ellen Amanda (â€œNellie,â€ born 1833), William Edward (â€œWillie,â€ born 1834), Harriet Aurelia (â€œHattie,â€ born 1837), and Carlton Pomeroy (born 1840). These children all lived to adulthood.
Harriet was widowed in 1845; in 1848, still in Palmyra, she married Stephen Titcomb, a widower and relatively wealthy businessman of English birth, living in Waterford Village, far to the east of Palmyra on the Hudson River north of Albany. Harriet and her children moved to Waterford to the large home Stephen shared with his adult children. She lived there until her death in 1875, when her body was returned to Palmyra for burial in the Grandin plot.
What did Harriet think of Mormonism? Not much, apparently, or at least not often:
â€œMr Brigham Young or Mr Joseph Smith Jun I dont know which I ought to address â€“â€ she began an 1856 letter, revealing that she had not followed news of Mormonism even cursorily. â€œNo doubt you have a distinct recollection of Mr E.B. Grandine the man who printed your Bible.â€
She went on to outline the course of her life, perhaps exaggerating its difficulties. â€œI am now living with a second husband who is now weary of my children and unwiling to have them with him any longer â€“â€ Regardless of Mr. Titcombâ€™s willingness, Harrietâ€™s children in fact continued to live with the couple until they married, the youngest daughter living under Mr. Titcombâ€™s roof until she was 37 years old.
Then she came to the real point of her letter: â€œThe thought occured to me that your people might take pleasure in contributing out of their abundance something which would help me to give my daughters advantages so as to enable them to maintain themselves â€“ I would like to give them a little more education so as to fit them for teachers â€“ The oldest one has a fine talent for music â€“ with a little more instruction she could maintain herself â€“â€
I can imagine how unimpressed Brigham Young would have been by such a plea. In Utah, his own people were ending two years of hunger approaching famine, with a prospect of the first decent harvest in years. Clothing was in such short supply that visitors commented on the near nakedness of many of the Mormons they encountered. Beyond Utah, Brigham struggled with finding the means to bring thousands of American and European Saints to Zion â€“ this plea from Harriet Titcomb for music lessons was delivered by a mail carrier who would have sped past the Martin and Willie handcart companies in the early weeks of their travel. Despite Harrietâ€™s assurance that â€œwe would be thankfull for even a very small favorâ€ and her calculated play on past associations and a bid for sympathy (â€œmy mind often resorts back to the time your Bible was printed when I was not a Widow and my children fatherless â€“â€), Brigham Young ignored her letter.
Harriet tried again the year before her death, reminding Brigham Young of her identity as â€œthe wife of E B Grandin. The man who printed your Golden Bibleâ€ and asked once more for a donation. Her husband was ill (â€œ His cure is hopeless, being softening of the brainâ€). â€œHow I would like to visit your people,â€ she claimed, closing with the realistic admission â€œbut probably never will.â€
So ended Harriet Rogers Grandin Titcombâ€™s series of small brushes with Mormonism.